The different meanings of food in chinese patients suffering from anorexia nervosa: Implications for clinical social work practice

Joyce L.C. Ma, Chung Yee Zenobia Chan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The metaphoric meanings of food have cast new lights on social work intervention with Chinese patients suffering from anorexia nervosa (AN) and their families. Hitherto, there is inadequate documentation on the different meanings of food in families with a daughter suffering from AN in a Chinese context. To fill this knowledge gap, this article reports the 3-year clinical observations of a sample of 34 adolescents and young women suffering from AN, as well as their families under family treatment. These observations show that food can be conceptualized in the following ways: (1) eating as an expression of filial piety; (2) food preparation as part of the woman’s nurturing role; (3) self-starvation as refusal to grow up; (4) self-starvation as struggle for autonomy; (5) assignment of food as part of the family hierarchy; and (6) assignment of food as part of parental control. Its implications for clinical social work practice and the roles of social workers in helping are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-70
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Work in Mental Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Chinese
  • Clinical social work
  • Different meanings
  • Food
  • Implications
  • Patients

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Cite this